“Don’t judge a book by its cover”

I am a feminist. In my politics and my work and my taste in music that is very obvious, something I am not ashamed to admit, and something that is deeply central to my life. However there is one area of life where, ironically, feminism doesn’t hold sway. That is to say, you can put a feminist spin on it, but the way I feel about it is not because I am a feminist.

I’m fully aware of how bizarre that sounds so I’ll try to explain in a minute. But first of all let me state something else that is also glaringly obvious if you know me: I LOVE books. I am an unashamed bibliophile. I’m the kind of person who has refused to buy a kindle because the books on a kindle AREN’T SMELLY. That’s right, I smell books before I buy them. Judge me if you will, you foolish beings who do not understand the importance of a smelly lovely book.

Naturally, being a bibliophile, I tend to spend a lot of time in bookshops. I can literally spend hours in them – any kind of bookshop will do. However I’ve noticed recently that when I go into bookshops, the feeling I get is not one of seeking books per se. It feels like I’m seeking refuge.

In other words, I am avoiding clothes shops.

I’ve never been great at clothes shopping, but I’ve never really hated it until the past year or so. I used to go with my mum and we always had fun, even if we did fight over what I wanted to wear (we still do, sometimes, she is my mum after all). Clothes and fashion were never the be-all end-all for me as a teen. I did have this great pair of black Calvin Klein jeans as a young teen which were the first item of clothing that I really loved and more so because they were Calvin Klein and so I could fit in just a little bit with the other girls who were so much cooler than me. But at the same time I didn’t want to fit in with the other girls. From a young age I was accustomed to the idea that what you looked like didn’t matter as long as you were kind and hard-working and smart. I didn’t get why girls spent ages doing their hair and make-up. I did experiment with an eating disorder at one point but that’s because I was miserable not because I hated my body and it never really took. I loved sports and food too much to commit to it. I felt like a failure for not being able to control my eating habits.

Another thing that’s always got to me is how goddamn difficult it is to find a pair of jeans that fits me properly. Even when I was a size 12-14 it was hard, just because my shape isn’t…I don’t know. But it’s always been a proper fucking mission to find good jeans, which is perhaps why I remember the calvin klein ones. I also remember being really chuffed when I found a pair of Miss Sixtys, which were dead on trend. And my blue denims with deliberate frays and rips which made me look really svelte and mature. I literally wear my jeans through until I eventually have to stop wearing them. Even now I still have them in my room at home, scattered like relics as if they’ll magically grow back and I’ll magically grow down.

I’d have to grow down, because I’m officially a size 18 now. Well, borderline 16. It was only a matter of time. I haven’t exercised in months – literally – and my diet has had too many sandwiches and not enough veg. My BMI is above what it should be, although I’m nothing close to obese. I’ve had stretch marks since I was 14 and I’m kind of indifferent to them. I see them as evidence of what my body is capable of, how the skin heals after stretching. I’ve accepted that my weight tends to accumulate around my stomach and thighs. My wrists and ankles are weak, and my back is crappy for a 22 year-old. But my body works. It has climbed the Great Wall of China, skied off piste, it wakes up breathing every morning. It’s not perfect, but it’s mine and we get along fine together.

That is, until I go into clothes shops. I guess I start to feel guilty then. Why haven’t I exercised more, why haven’t I eaten better, why aren’t I skinny enough. Or even trim enough. Why won’t this fit me. Why isn’t there a bigger size. I don’t want to go back to experimenting with an eating disorder or feeling crappy about myself. All I want is to be able to go into a clothes shop knowing that they stock size 16 and above, and recently, that’s happened very rarely. Some shops don’t stock size 16.

I have literally started panicking in clothes stores. I feel my heart beating faster and start sweating. I look at all these beautiful clothes that I’ll never fit into and all the beautiful models I’ll never be and my eyes tear up and I get that horrible lump in the back of my throat and I have to try really hard not to cry. I try to apply feminist theory to my situation, remind myself that it’s patriarchy and capitalism and fascist beauty ideals that’s to blame. This works in every situation in my life, normally. I wash away sadness with intellect and rage and solidarity. But in the changing room I am just a sad, angry little girl who just wants to be pretty and who doesn’t want to go back about not caring about her appearance because that was the easiest option.

Now that I’m learning to reflect on many things in my life, including this, I think I’ll be ok eventually. I think I’m going to start exercising again – not to lose weight, as even when I was exercising intensively seven days a week I didn’t really lose weight – but just so I can feel good, endorphins and all that shit. I’m starting a new job in September and I’m going to go clothes shopping at fancy stores like Hobbs with my mum and I’ll look really sophisticated. I know how to shop for my size, I’ve learned over the years. I think I need to learn to breathe and enjoy shopping again, and remember that patience is key, and that size 18 is fine, and that as Nina Simone sang, I’ve got my hair, got my head, got my brains, got my ears, got my eyes, got my nose, got my mouth, I got my smile.

But until I’ve re-learned what I used to know, I’ll stick to bookshops. After all, when it comes to books, one size fits all.


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